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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is Donald Trump a cut-rate Howard Hughes?

It would seem almost sacrilegious to compare Donald Trump to Howard Hughes. Hughes was a romantic, swashbuckling, even mythic figure. He had originality, flair, and courage. By contrast Trump is just a pompous rich boy with a swollen ego. Nonetheless, parallels do exist.

Neither man was entirely self-made. Howard Hughes inherited the Hughes Tool company at age 19 when his father died of a heart attack (his mother had died two years earlier). Donald Trump joined The Trump Organization, his father's real estate company, when he got out of college.

Hughes, while a young man, moved to Hollywood to make movies. He made several films, one of which won an Academy Award. Trump has also been involved with show business, most notably with his TV show The Apprentice. He is also part owner of the Miss Universe Organization, which also produces Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.

Hughes famously dated a long list of famous beauties, including Billie Dove, Bettie Davis, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katherine Hepburn, and Gene Tierney. His second wife was actress Jean Peters. Donald Trump has been married three times, the last two times to an actress and then a model. As part owner of (and annual judge at) the Miss Universe pageant, one can't help but suspect that he may have exercised a certain droit de seigneur there.

One of Hughes' notable failures was the Spruce Goose aircraft, which he was unable to complete in time for its intended mission to ferry US troops across the Atlantic during World War II. The wooden airplane (made of birch, not spruce) flew exactly one time, piloted by Hughes himself, at a height of seventy feet. Trump's one venture into the airline business, the Trump Shuttle, lasted only a few years until he was forced to cede control in the early '90's.

Both men had connections to the gaming industry. Hughes bought the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, mostly to have a place to stay. He also bought The Landmark Hotel and Casino, the Sands, the Castaway, and the Silver Slipper. Trump at one point owned the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, though his casino company was later forced to declare bankruptcy.

As Hughes descended into mental illness, he became extremely germ phobic. Trump is reportedly a germaphobe as well, and avoids shaking hands with other people.

Hughes had an estate valued at 2.5 billion dollars when he died in 1976. Donald Trump has claimed to be a billionaire for the past couple decades (he is the only person on the Forbes 400 ever to have complained to the magazine that he was worth more than they claimed). Trump may actually have been a billionaire at some point.

Howard Hughes was a creative man, both as a film producer and as an airplane engineer. At age 11 he built Houston's first radio transmitter, in 1917, and at age twelve constructed Houston's first motorized bicycle. Later on he was responsible for many aircraft innovations. Trump is creative with his boasting.

Hughes at one point refused to leave a darkened screening room at a film studio for several months from late 1947 to early 1948. He spent much of his time sitting naked in a chair, watching reel after reel of film. During this interlude all he ate were chocolate bars and milk. He went to the bathroom in empty milk containers. Trump puts his waste between the covers of books and sells it.

(Okay, these last two were stretches.)

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